Debate Commission changed the rules to qualify for national leaders’ debate
August 13, 2019
Last autumn, Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, established the criteria that would be used to determine which political leaders would be in the leaders’ debates. She established three criteria, and declared that to be eligible you had to meet two of them.
The three criteria were: 1) an elected MP at the time the election is called; 2) intention to run candidates in at least 90% (304) of Canada’s 338 electoral districts; 3) four-per-cent popular support in the previous election or a “legitimate chance to win seats in the upcoming election.”
At the time, Maxime Bernier qualified for the 1st criteria (he is an elected MP), and the PPC began the hard work of meeting the 2nd criteria. However, as it became clear that we would succeed, the 1st criteria was changed. It now declared that the party “must have at least one MP elected under that party’s banner”. This change occurred after the by-elections took place, and its obvious intent was to disqualify Bernier. Now Bernier could not possibly meet the 1st criteria, and he could never fully meet the 3rd criteria as it is impossible for a newly formed political party to earn 4% of the vote in an election that happened prior to its existence.
As problematic is that “legitimate chance to win seats” is completely subjective. Logically, the PPC ought to qualify for the 3rd criteria simply because anything can happen during an election, so any party that runs multiple candidates could be said to have a “legitimate chance” to win seats. Also, “legitimate” simply means “conforming to the law or to rules”, and the PPC has not indicated any intention to cheat. It appears, however, that other parties have no qualms doing so.
The leadership debates serve as a powerful platform. In 2011, Jack Layton’s strong performance in the leadership debate saw an orange wave sweep across Quebec, and the NDP became Canada’s official opposition. In British Columbia, a strong performance by Gordon Wilson in the 1991 debate saw the B.C. Liberals (who had not elected a member in over a decade) soar in the polls, capturing 33% of the vote and 17 seats.
The PPC has always known that getting our leader into the debate is essential to our campaign efforts across the country, and to have the criteria changed on us, to have the rug pulled out from under us, is extremely disheartening. It is akin to changing the rules of the game part way through.